Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Saved in the Midst of Saving

This is the longest piece that I have posted here. It is longer than the recommended length for a blog post. However, two friends of mine, Rick and Allan, have asked for copies of this story. I'm posting it for them and others who might be interested. I have shared "Saved in the Midst of Saving" with people I know; however, I have edited parts that took away from the it sequential integrity. Like most of what I post, this story is intense and war related. War hardens people and it, at times, presents circumstances in which people can exercise their grossest fantasies. I remain angry with a country that puts young people in positions where they must make moral decisions that could have long term and life and death consequences.

Saved in the Midst of Saving

It is night in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam sometime in September or October of 1967. Lane’s squad, which has been patrolling along rice paddies, is about to set up a defensive position on the raised area where a family dwelling, a hooch, stands above the rice paddy waters. The men hear an explosion nearby and then the unmistakable “thump” of another round leaving the mortar tube traveling in their direction. Lane hits the ground as rounds exploded. His whole being shakes uncontrollably waiting for the next round to hit. There is no safe place as the VC fire and “walked” rounds toward the squad’s position. Behind him, next to the hooch and in the midst of the attack, Lane hears a commotion and people speaking Vietnamese in a disturbed and anxious way. He looks to see what’s happening and notices a Vietnamese girl not much younger than himself running away from the hooch and the protective earthen bunker that all family dwelling contain. She runs in the darkness between the surrounding trees and looks back in fear toward her house and the gathered American soldiers. Her beauty evens in the dark of that night attack surprises and attracts Lane. He thinks, “What’s she doing out exposing herself to death in a mortar attack?” In minutes, the VC attack stops. From his position, which is away from the house and away from the others, Lane sees the rest of his squad gathered, speaking in low voices. As a sharp fear rises in him, he thinks, “they better spread out. One mortar round or one grenade will wound and kill them all.”

Lane sees one man from the grouped squad turn toward him with an ominous and questioning look and others glance in his direction. Their low talking, that look, and those glances pierce into his psyche and bring about terrible feelings. “They’re gonna rape her” he knows as he looks over at the rest of the squad. Lane’s squad leader has the reputation for atrocities. He’s cut off and preserved ears of dead Viet Cong and he’s pulled gold teeth from Vietnamese bodies. Two other members of the squad, team leaders and the squad leader’s henchmen, have taken on their leader’s macho evil way of soldiering. Lane thinks, “it looks like someone’s done persuading and action’s about to start!”

Lane’s mind begins to race. Instantaneously a number of thoughts flash into his consciousness. They revolve around the decision: “should I join them or should I stop them.” He feels no excitement in the prospect of raping anyone; however, the squad has all of their weapons against Lane and his lone M-16. “If I challenged them, will they kill me on the spot?” “They’re the ones who have my back” in the midst of the constant threat of attack. “Should I go along with them so that they will to protect me?” “What if I do stop the rape, will my squad leader later put me on point and then have someone put a round in my back or blow me away with a grenade?” All of these thoughts conform to this young soldier’s primal instinct for survival and his desire to conform to his peers. All of these thoughts speed through Lane’s mind until two remain: “I have to live with myself” and “she doesn’t deserve to be raped.” At this point, his attraction to this young woman turns to love and his love impels a readiness to act. Lane stands with his rifle at waist level in the assault position pointed in his squad’s direction thinking, “Why am I standing here like this?” Then he hears something deep within say; “keep your weapon there!” And he does.

Another thought enters Lane and another fear rises. He fears that in threatening to stop the rape he’ll certainly need to threaten firing his weapon or fire at the squad possibly killing his own men. Right then, Lane makes the decision to kill if need be to stop that rape. With his weapon pointed in the squad’s direction, he stands feeling devastation and resolve as he imagines his fire rifle’s muzzle ablaze as men fall.

In a few minutes, the quiet talking stops and the rest of the squad disperses to set up for the night. There was no rape and the squad returns to base camp the next morning. In a day or so one of the men from Lane’s squad approaches him and indicates that it was Lane’s presence that stopped the rape. The man says, “we were going to do something, but we were afraid that you would do something.” Lane responds saying with a macho affect, “your damn right I would have!” Then he turns and walks away.

Forty years later, names have left Lane’s memory; however, the image of men ready to rape are imprinted in this veteran’s mind. In contrast, this older veteran remembers the interaction with his squad member while in basecamp. This man’s demeanor bordered on relief, even gratitude. Lane realizes that this young soldier may have come to thank him for stopping him and the others from actions that they would have regretted, actions that would have scarred them for life.

Recently, in a group of combat veterans with whom he meets, Lane shared parts of this story. The facilitator responded saying, “thank you for saving that woman.” Another member, a vet who admits to having acted “crazy” in Vietnam, looked at her and said, “no, he saved himself.” During that awe-full night in the Mekong, something inside had inspired Andrew Lane to do both.

First published in "Veterans' Voices." Mission, Kansas: Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project, INC. Fall, 2007.

Robert Jost

1 comment:

Alan said...

Thanks for the acknowledgement and for sharing your experiences with me and others. I'm certain that as each day goes by, as each post you have on your blog, brings you closer to your spiritual healing. May you find your peace....